From the beaches of Jeju to the slopes of Tancheon this trip saw me take planes, trains, expensive taxis and one rather excitable bus driver all in the name of the beautiful game that is the K-League. My first trip to Jeju United on Saturday and a huge match against the league leaders for Seongnam on Sunday lay await on what would surely be an epic weekend of football.
First up was a short flight to the ‘Korean Hawaii’ that is Jeju Island.
Jeju United v FC Seoul – Saturday August 29th 19:00
The morning started with me rising from my bed around 7am much like something out of The Walking Dead, the previous night’s drinking shenanigans still coursing through my veins. My friend from the US who had been staying with me for a week was flying out that day too so luckily between us we managed to navigate our way to Seoul Station and the Airport Express Train. I arrived at Gimpo Airport weighing up whether a beer or a coffee would be best to ‘straighten’ me up, thankfully I took the safe option of a Zoo Coffee and settled on a balcony awaiting my flight. I was flying with Jeju Air, the Korean equivalent of all the bad parts of EasyJet and Ryanair combined into one airline. From delayed flights and cramped seats to uncomfortably whining engines noises they had everything you could hope for in a ‘no-frills’ airline.
Once I had landed, and had performed an almost papal-esque blessing of the ground, I was soon on the shuttle bus heading out to the Hyatt beach resort. It wasn’t long before I was being whisked past palm trees and mountains, farms and a rather strange dinosaur park. The flight to Jeju takes about one hour and it really is amazing to think that this ‘paradise’ is so close to the hustle and bustle of Seoul. It took about 30 mins to get to the resort from the airport where I met up with the FC Seoul fans I was going to the game with. I was to be an honory (I think) member of the Diablos for the day, the Diablos being the main foreign contingent that follows Seoul. A quick but excellent lunch and then it was off to the beach for some beer and sports. The sports consisted of throwing a ball around, the English guys playing cricket and me drinking. A fine time was had indeed. I am in actual fact terrified of the sea but even I was coaxed into the water at one point. We spent a few hours on the beach before heading to the stadium to take in the match.
It was now time to take in the main event and having been reliably informed by the head Diablo himself, Paul, that Jeju had in fact never beaten FC Seoul in the league it was surely going to be more of the same tonight. The Jeju World Cup Stadium is quite a smart looking stadium, it follows the design idea of ‘roofs are optional’ but it is still a reasonably good place to watch, if not enjoy, football. The inclusion of a home-ware store and a place to try on traditional Korean clothing add to the ambiance.
The match itself was a rather strange affair, it started with a lot of promise but then quickly descended into something akin to The Three Stooges meets Roy of the Rovers. Both teams started reasonably well with Jeju probably just shading the early exchanges. The first goal came around the 40 min mark and it was a combination of shocking defending plus a wonder-strike. Jeju got a corner which was poorly cleared out to the right wing, the resulting cross was again poorly cleared by Osmar as he headed straight to Yoon Bit Garam. Even at this point it didn’t look like a dangerous situation but enter Cha Du Ri in the role of Moe. As Yoon picked up the ball Cha charged at him then inexplicably turned his back on him allowing Yoon a clear shot at goal. He let loose a strike from maybe 25 yards and it sailed majestically into the top corner beyond Yoo Sang Hoon. It was a sweet strike from a player who often looked like an extra from Dream Team in his Seongnam days. 1-0 Jeju and the deadlock broken.
The second half started and everyone among the Seoul faithful were eagerly awaiting the barrage of attacks that their heroes would undoubtedly rain down on the Jeju goal, well everyone that was apart from the Diablo who’s afternoon beers had persuaded him to take a lengthy nap. The beginning was similar to the first half with both teams having chances then in the 55th minute came FC Seoul’s equalizer. The ball broke to Adriano in the box who was nudged by a Jeju defender and so naturally he went down like he’d been shot. In fairness there was contact but as is so often the case the desire to go for a penalty outweighed that of trying to score. Adriano ‘dusted himself down’ and after what seemed like the longest time he sent Kim the wrong way and it was 1-1.It wasn’t a powerful shot but it was perfectly placed and it has to be said that Adriano has been in good form since joining Seoul and is beginning to look like the player who shot Daejeon to the Challenge title last year.
At 1-1 you really got the feeling that Seoul were going to go on to win it but then that was before Larry and Curly made their long awaited cameo appearances. If the first Jeju goal had comical defending what was to come was farcical. Song Jin Hyung harmlessly headed the ball over the halfway line towards the Seoul half where Fernando Caranga was loitering offside, Caranga kept running back thus leaving Kim Jin Kyu (Larry) with the simple task of knocking the ball back to Yoo (Curly). Unfortunately this seemed to be all too much for him to compute and he dithered allowing Song to speed towards the ball. Seeing Song running towards the ball Yoo did the only thing a crazed goalkeeper would do and charged out of his box ala Fabian Barthez. This left Song with the simple task of knocking the ball into the empty net and viola 2-1 Jeju. The Jeju bench, coaching staff, tea ladies and convenience stores clerks all ran on the pitch to celebrate the goal which I think showed just how much a long awaited victory over Seoul meant to them.
Seoul poured men forward looking for a second equalizer to keep that amazing undefeated record intact but unfortunately to no avail. They came close with a couple of efforts but the game eventually petered out and the Suhoshin were left to make the long travels back to Seoul thinking about what might have been. The Diablos contingent headed for the relative comfort of a Galbi restaurant before heading back to our pension and the final rounds of beer.
* The last time Jeju defeated Seoul in the league they were called Bucheon and Seoul were called Anyang, although we don’t really talk about that much these parts of the world. A small aside the number 1 song in the UK at that time was ‘The Tide is High’ by Atomic Kitten which reminds me always bring two pair of shorts to the beach.
After the disappointment in Jeju it was time to wake up, shake off the cobwebs (quite literally) and head back to Seoul before making the trip to Yatap Station and Fortress Tancheon.
Seongnam v Jeonbuk – Sunday August 30th 17:00
Seongnam’s form this season has taken even the most optimistic of their fans by surprise and this has never been more evident than the fact they went into this match not only hoping to further strengthen their chances of winning an ACL spot but also with some lofty dreams of maybe catching the league leaders. The last time the two teams had met it was one of the most one-sided matches I’ve seen this season as Seongnam won 2-1 but in reality it could have and should have been a much larger margin. A bumper crowd of 12187 had turned out for the match which has got to be one of Seongnam’s largest non-ACL attendances for a while.
The game started much as you would expect with Jeonbuk on the front foot. The first five mins or so it looked like Seongnam could be on the end of a humbling as they seemed to struggle with the pace of the game. They quickly adjusted though and it wasn’t long before they appeared in total control, limiting Jenobuk to hopeful long balls. Quite how Seongnam never took the lead in the first 20 mins was a mystery as first Hwang Uijo then Reina contrived to miss when it seemed easier to score. The first contentious issue arose on about 20 mins when Hwang Uijo looked to have been fouled in the box but unfortunately the referee waved away the frantic claims of the men in black. Hwang does have a reputation of going down easier than one of Ronda Rousey’s opponents but on this occasion it did look like there had been enough contact made. If the referee had got on the wrong side of the Seongnam fans with this he was about to make things a whole lot worse…..
A cross into the Seongnam box was poorly cleared by the defence and Lee Dong Gook ran to try and get the ball, as he did so Kim Do Heon came across to clear. Do Heon swung at the ball and Lee Dong Gook seized the opportunity to go down. There was no contact made but that seemed lost on the referee as he blew for a penalty. It was a ridiculous decision and made even more so by the fact that he had denied Seongnam a penalty only a few mins earlier. It was a killer blow that Seongnam struggled to recover from. When the HT whistle went the players trudged towards the tunnel as the boos rang out in the direction of the referee.
The second half started with Seongnam throwing everything at Jeonbuk. The more they came forward though the more gaps they left at the back allowing Jeonbuk opportunities. One such opportunity saw Lee Dong Gook presented with probably the easiest chance of his career after some clever play from Leonardo. But somehow from 6 yards he managed to screw his shot high, wide and not very handsome. At the other end the newly capped Hwang Uijo continued to frustrate, either snatching at chances or making wrong choices. The game was beginning to have an all too familiar ring to it now.
Jeonbuk, as they have so often this season, were able to see the match out and I guess that is the mark of champions. It was a frustrating end to a weekend that promised so much but ultimately delivered little more than a ridiculous hangover and a massive dent in my wallet.